Wheelchair travel is never easy. Each cruise line has different standards and each ship has different challenges. Having recently completed a 7 night Alaska cruise aboard Royal Caribbean's Rhapsody of the Sea, we found the ship to be very wheelchair friendly.
Since it is not possible to make a reservation for an accessible room online, we called the reservations center. Our first experience was not that positive since the individual on the other end didn't speak English well. For us, that was important so that they had the capability of understanding and explaining their processes. Once we called back and found someone we could understand, we found they were friendly and answered all our questions, including providing documentation on all the accessible excursions offered.
Embarkation: Airport transfers included an an accessible bus. The check-in process appeared to be chaotic but was actually well organized and efficient. Apparently there were people with issues but aren't there always?
Accommodations: We had reserved a junior suite, the largest category for accessible rooms. Our room started with a wider door, plenty of room around the bed for the wheelchair, a roll-in shower. The lip to the balcony was about 3 inches but with a little running start we were able to get over it. There was plenty of room on the balcony for the chair. While our suite had plenty of room, we sure wish RC would provide accessible suites in the higher categories.
Dining: All the facilities were accessible. Windjammer Cafe has reserved seating for wheelchair and crew were quick to move chairs to make way for the wheelchair or to get food from the buffet when needed. Placement in the dining room could have been better as we required some guests to have to get up and move in order for us to get to our table and out of the dining room. Placards in the buffet were not readable from wheelchair level, but the crew were very willing to explain what the foods might be. We purchased a soda card which was very expensive; but it did come with a nice souvenir mug.
Excursions: We never expected all the excursions to be accessible but we thought the ones RC indicated would be fully accessible. We booked four. Our first was a whale watching. We were provided with transportation to the boat that had a wheelchair lift, and found reserved seating on the boat. Unfortunately, once other passengers started spotting whales they stood up, completely blocking our view. Fortunately the boat's crew saw our dilemma and found a spot near the window so that we might have a view (so long as it was on that side of the boat). A few ill-mannered passengers still didn't get the clue and tried to force their way in front of us, but we certainly don't hold that against the tour company or cruise line. The other excursions were all accessible. And other than the Seattle city and airport drop-off bus driver not knowing how to work the wheelchair lift, we enjoyed the excursions. Excursions were all expensive and probably better value if we had booked directly with local tour companies.
Crew: The crew were very helpful and understanding. the only time we had a problem was in trying to explain to the pursers desk that we would not be putting out all our luggage the night before disembarkation so that we would have access to our medical equipment. Either she did not want to or could not understand our requirements. We finally had to talk to the head of the department in order to get our needs to be met.
Disembarkation: The process was smooth and efficient. We were actually escorted off the ship a few minutes early and had to wait a little for our section of luggage to be open but it was not very long. Customs was quick and we were on our city tour just as other passengers were arriving.
Other: While we appreciated the effort of the crew to prevent the spread of flu and disease by the use of hand sanitizer, they really need to understand how difficult it is to push a wheelchair while hands are slippery from the sanitizer. Some zealous crew almost required everyone to use it, without regards to allergies or the special circumstances we experienced. this was especially irritating trying to go up and down ramps. We could not get into the fitness room without going through emergency exits and without crew assistance. Unlike the Disney Wonder or Carnival Paradise, all doors to decks were accessible and easy to get through. Rhapsody also includes a lift for the outdoor pool though we did not see anything for the hot tubs or Solarium pools.